Zoom bans are latest bad news for video app

Zoom may have introduced new security tools to avoid "Zoombombing" interrupting video calls, but concerns about the unexpectedly popular service have led to at least one city implementing a ban. Last Thursday, Zoom CEO Eric S. Yuan admitted that the company had been overwhelmed with exponential growth in daily users, as coronavirus quarantined and self-isolating people turned to video calling to keep in contact.

In December 2019, Yuan said, Zoom typically saw 10 million daily users. In March, however, that number has surged to more than 200 million. Zoom offers both free video calls and subscription packages, the latter more typically focused on enterprise users.

As demand has climbed, though, so too has gatecrashing incidents. Zoom calls were, until recently, unsecured by default; by guessing the meeting ID, uninvited participants could join the call and disrupt it. Although some of those attacks were relatively harmless, others have used the opportunity to make racist comments or share explicit content.

The risk of that happening seems to have been too great for the New York City Department of Education. In a memo distributed this weekend by DOE Chief Operating Officer Ursulina Ramirez – and viewed by the NY Post – principles of New York schools were told not to use Zoom. Instead, they were advised to switch to rival video calling systems, like Google Hangouts Meet or Microsoft Teams.

"We know how hard you and your staff worked to quickly acclimate to videoconferencing tools," COO Ramirez says, "and we urgently worked over the weekend to preserve some widely used options while establishing clarity on those that pose a risk to privacy or security."

Over the weekend, Zoom has been retweeting several guides to video calling security from its official Twitter account. Last week, Yuan said that Zoom would be putting all new feature development on hold, and instead focusing its engineering resources "on our biggest trust, safety, and privacy issues." That will include third-party security analysis by external specialists, and an update to the company's bug bounty program that rewards researchers who identify potential hacks or flaws in Zoom's software.

Even with that, though, is seems likely that more organizations will begin to explore alternatives to Zoom, particularly in cases where users may not be as tech-savvy as the average enterprise CTO. SpaceX reportedly banned the use of Zoom for video calls back in late March, and other organizations are believed to have followed suit, or at least be considering the possibility.